Mindfork - Development Notes

Early Development

Mindfork is an iOS app developed for Zaubug Oy, in 2015. I have worked on this project together with Nicola Zamboni, Anna Lapinsh, Jerry Boucher and Andy Lemon. The original concept was developed by Nicola Zamboni back in 2014, where he experimented with the simplicity of morphing animations in Adobe Flash (now known as Adobe Animate) to create a simple gameplay. He came up with a basic yet fun concept of dodging shapeshifting environment. The game concept was so banal and simple; we were surprised that it was not done before. Back then we were studying at the university, he showed the concept to our peers, everyone liked it. However, the game was left just as another idea, and more or less forgotten until January of 2015. When Anna was looking for a new game concept to enter PGC 2015 - The Very Big Indie Pitch. Mindfork was a perfect candidate, we had only a week or so to polish and submit the game. This is when I fully committed to the project, I had to code the game and work on UI and UX. Nicola had to design levels and together we agreed on the game design. Andy took care of the sound design. Jerry gave us overall advice. While Anna had to orchestrate: development, promotion and publishing. This was my first experience fully releasing a game, we had a huge task ahead of us.

Pocket Gamer Connects 2015

We arrived at the show with a few different games, we were pitching our 2 weeks’ prototype – Mindfork, however we also had Hexfall and Boxlings. We had action-arcade Mindfork, puzzle- arcade Hexfall and puzzle-card game Boxlings. Our games attracted different kinds of audience, which was great, we had a very busy booth. It is an incredible feeling seeing people, enjoying playing your prototypes and asking when it will be out, probably one of the most inspiring feelings I get as a game designer.

The Very Big Indie Pitch

We had an amazing feedback from people who attended our booth. We had our hopes up for The Very Big Indie Pitch. After judges played our game, there was an hour of a pure anticipation. We have done all we could at this point, and we played few other games so we knew what we were up against, victory seemed plausible. The time has come, everyone was invited to see the announcement of the top 3 games. We were very excited, but we did not win any position that time. I have very good memories about this event, we did not get the prize, but we had a good attempt with our prototype. Not to mention, at the after-party I spoke with Rami Ismail, who was one of the judges, he was truly passionate when we discussed the core design, and how our game can be improved. Maybe it is just a gossip, but apparently we came really close to the top 3 games. True or not, I was very proud of our prototype.

Full Time Development

Full of inspiration from the show, we began jotting down ideas, suggestions and testing out new concepts. My initial task was to rewrite the whole engine from scratch to ensure that the game can run on the iOS devices. Since the concept is very straight forward, I had a core engine done within a week or so. That’s when we began experimenting with the gameplay: at what speed and when the environment morphs into a new shape, how the character is controlled and so on. We agreed to make quick – 30 seconds levels, that are intense and fun. Originally we settled for 10 level for the release, however that was later changed to 21, because we felt like the game can be too easy to complete. As we were developing the game, we saw players getting frustrated with how abruptly the game restarts when the player hits the wall, it was completely unforgiving. To balance that, I came up with a reverse transition: once the player hits the wall, the level morphs back to the initial appearance, which gave it fluidity. On top of that we incorporated a risk reward system, where the player gathers particles when passing close to the walls, after a certain amount the ship fills up and changes the shape, also as part of the feedback a trail appears. In this state the ship has one extra life, if the player will hit the wall now, the level will morph back in time and position the ship where the player was 2 seconds ago. This mechanic made the game more forgiving and created a fluid visual aesthetic.

I remember, for good two months we could not settle for the controls of the game, the movement of the ship seems pretty simple; the ship is constantly moving, and the player can only turn left or right to control it. This kind of control is straight forward on the keyboard using directional keys, we never encountered any problem with the controls until we ported a version for a tablet. That’s when the confusion begun. We developed about 4 different control schemas to see, which one is the easiest to understand and use. We had everything: from splitting screen into left and right, to having a corner of the screen as a left and right buttons, to having the ship always spin into one direction and pressing anywhere on the screen would make it rotate the other way, to using position of the finger on the screen as a rotation point, there was a lot of confused players, what’s more unusual we did not get a consistent feedback. Until we finally arrived to a conclusion of including a simple tutorial, usually I avoid tutorials in my games, as they tend to be dull and cumbersome. However, this time it alleviated us from all the problems with the controls, that taught me that every game design technique has its own proper use, and none of them should be overlooked even if they are outdated or boring. It is very important to teach the player how to play the game correctly. And Of course, it depends on the game, but a quick little hint can increase player’s understanding of the game and through her right into the action, rather than a fight with controls.

As to extend longevity of the game we added 5 different achievements, they can be seen under the star-tab on the main menu. Initially they appear greyed out- and serve as hints, for example “do a roll” – means that if a player will do a full circle in the game, then the achievement will be complete. Once the achievement is unlocked, a little star flies out of the ship and disappears into the side of the screen. The next time the player will go into the main menu, the star-tab icon will be flashing, indicating that something has been unlocked. When the achievement is unlocked, the hint changes into a fully coloured button with text- representing a mode, indicating what changes it will make to the game. Each button can be turned on and off. 5 different achievements, unlock 5 different modes that can be mixed and matched or used all at once, for variation of gameplay. This solution extends the gameplay beyond core mechanics, and rewards for playing the game in different ways, adding sense of discovery and novelty.

EGX 2015 – Indie MEGABOOTH

The show begun. we had a good start, we were equipped with 2 tablets, fliers, sticker and a lot positive attitude. The first day went well, but we did not get as much attention as some of the other games. This is when I decided to mix things up a little, I proposed to showcase our game on my laptop, however instead of normal controls we will use 2 bananas as buttons, to rotate left and right. My idea was met with some strange looks, but the team agreed to give it a go. The next day, I came to the show earlier, hooked up my laptop to the bananas, my quirky idea was ready and running. As the show started we begun gathering a lot more people than from the day before. Everyone had a lot of fun playing with bananas as controllers. In fact, so much so, that we had to go through 6 bananas a day for the rest of the show. This was a great idea, because it attracted people to give our game a go, now we had something to stand out from the crowd. In my opinion, if the game was not good enough they wouldn’t have stayed for too long, whereas most people played for 15 minutes and more. Conclusion – don’t be afraid to be different.

Don't eat our controllers!

This is a little comic drawn by Anna. I don’t know for what reason, but every morning we had to hop a fence on the way to the show and back. Just game design things.


First Impressions

External links

Mindfork on the App Store
Mindfork at the Indie MEGABOOTH
Mindfork review: App Advice
Mindfork review: App Rumors
Mindfork: Interview